Posts Tagged ‘Royal Danish Theater’

Two Public Relations Failures

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

By: Frank Cadenhead

Published April 25, 2018

The Hamburg State Opera is suffering a public-relations disaster and it is clearly self-inflicted. When they decided that the popular French soprano Julie Fuchs could not perform the role of Pamina in their production because she was four months pregnant, somebody must have know that this decision would be controversial. With the ongoing international discussions about the rights of women prominent in media, both social and popular, how could this decision not attract attention? Here is what Ms Fuchs wrote on her Facebook page:

“April 20 at 6:34pm ·
Today, I have an unexpected announcement to make: The Staatsoper Hamburg has unfortunately informed me just this week that the artistic integrity of the Jette Steckel production of ‘Die Zauberflöte’ cannot be maintained if the soprano singing Pamina is four months pregnant.
As you can imagine, I am very disappointed as I am feeling vocally and physically in top form. I am fully committed to fulfilling my contracts as planned and previously announced. I was very much looking forward to making my debut in this role, and singing for all of you in Hamburg. My apologies to those of you who already booked tickets. Whilst I respect the artistic vision of the theatre, I am saddened that we were not able to find a solution to accommodate this slight physical difference which does not negatively affect my vocal or artistic performance. It was my strong desire to find small production changes to make my appearance possible. As is the case with most women, in this second trimester of my pregnancy, I am happy to report that I am feeling full of energy and my good health has been confirmed by my doctors. I look forward to returning to the stage in June to sing Poppea at the Opernhaus Zürich.”

This post has now 5.400 reactions, 1,812 shares and 1,081 comments, with few exceptions exclusively negative for the Hamburg Opera and includes comments by many major opera stars who have shared their experiences of singing while pregnant. The news spread around the usual European classical music sites and their published items also found the actions of Hamburg at least questionable and frequently hostile. Germany, like most other European countries, has strong labor laws which support the right of women to continue working while pregnant and, in normal employment situations, would require a doctor’s certification as to the risks inherent in the work to justify removing someone from their job.

On April 23, I received a form reply from the Hamburg Opera press spokesman (which was given to all media):
“The Hamburg State Opera regrets that we are not allowed to fill the soprano Julie Fuchs in the role of Pamina in the Hamburg production of the „Magic Flute“. After a thorough examination, it is not possible to change the staging so that there is no danger for the expectant mother and at the same time the core of the production of Jette Steckel remains. There are a variety of physically demanding scenes in this production, including several flight scenes, which are prohibited in principle for pregnant women. “The legal situation for the protection of the expectant mother is clear and we will never take a health risk, even if only a risky scenic action could take place on the stage,” Tillmann Wiegand, Director of Artistic Management at Hamburg State Opera.
This is also very regrettable for us – we were already looking forward to the performance of Ms. Fuchs as Pamina. However, it is clear that we have to follow to the strict laws for the protection of the expectant mother and of course we have offered Ms. Fuchs shows for the next seasons.”

Dr. Bellgardt did not respond to my specific questions about German law protecting pregnant women in the workplace and did not respond to my question about whether a doctor’s advise was sought. Are we to assume that Mr. Wiegand, the Director of Artistic Management, made this decision without medical advice? It seems that is the case from the text of the Opera’s reply.

The larger question is how any opera company, substantially supported by funds from a government with a woman as Chancellor, could be so oblivious to the insensitivity of their response. At the very least, more details about the demands of the production to justify the declaration of Mr. Weigand would be the least they could provide. The issue of relevance of opera to our present time is a much discussed topic in the opera world and modern stagings have been influenced by this trend. For any opera company to issue declarations which seem from an earlier centuries is hard to understand, particularly when the public reaction could have been anticipated. Younger generations have rejected earlier social confines around the issues of child-bearing. Yesterday, the Duchess of Kent, it might be noted, left the hospital only seven hours after given birth to her new child. Why should an opera company not be aware of this present social consciousness?

Another contemporaneous public relations failure, this time almost comic, was from the Royal Danish Theater. This name describes the most important Danish performing art complex, central to Copenhagen’s opera and theater scene. It consists of the original Royal Danish Theatre, from 1874, the dramatic bay-front Copenhagen Opera House from 2004, the Stærekassen, an Art Deco theatre adjacent to the main theatre and finally the Royal Danish Playhouse inaugurated in 2008. When vague suggestions began on the internet that the Danish stage director Kasper Holten, who has a major success while director of London’s Royal Opera form 2011-2017, and stages opera for the world’s most important opera companies, might be directing part or all of this Denmark landmark, A survey of the internet and found no information circulating which would support this speculation. My inquiry to the press office produced this response:

“Thank you for your interest in The Royal Danish Theater.
In our pressroom, we have two press releases regarding Kasper Holten. In the press releases, we have comments from the head of our board Lisbeth Knudsen, Kasper Holten and from coworker Nicolai Bentsen.
I hope it is useful for you, even though it is in Danish.
Kind regards”

I was not able to locate any press release available at the press internet site, in Danish or any other language. The fact that they publish their press offerings only in Danish is contrary to the practice of every other European cultural institution, who would normally seek international recognition. It is a practice that seems militantly provincial. I was invited to the opening of the dramatic new opera house in 2004 and remember press staff at the time as helpful and kind. When Kasper Holten arrives at the The Royal Danish Theater he will certainly have some housecleaning to do.